Strangers in the Dark

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Three strangers are trapped together in a large, pitch black room filled with junk.

Submitted: April 26, 2017

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Submitted: April 26, 2017

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Strangers in the Dark

 

Fran walked into the room, and she would never come out. The room was 120 feet by 70 feet long, she estimated. What its original purpose was for was unknown and irrelevant. It had since then been converted into something of a storage unit. There were shelves along the walls and shelving units in the middle, and was originally easy to navigate. Evidently too many people and for too long a time had started to get impatient looking for shelves to stack their junk onto so a lot of it was scattered across the floor, some of it tidily, most of it not. There were mats and crates and books and blankets and mannequins and bottles and pots and bags and hundreds of unknowable artefacts. The room was part of a bigger, now ruined structure that she estimated had once been a workplace of some sort, long since abandoned. The stuff left behind was old and forgotten; none of it belonged to anybody. It was a ripe place for an opportunist such as herself. It was a ripe place for a few people, it seemed. Homeless people would peck around every so often and see if there was anything to sell or trade – the place had no valuables – if it did, they had long been scavenged away. There was a shortage in her hometown at the moment – a storm was coming, a big storm, and people had been preparing for it. There were dwindling supplies in town. Food was scarce in the stores, and what was left behind by now was probably going unnecessary and destined to remain behind. The DIY stores couldn’t even sell off wood or plastic anymore – it had all been sold off. Everything had been taken. It was a relatively small community of about 100,000 people so it didn’t take long for it to all disappear, particularly to an excitable crowd such as this, most of whom had never lived through a storm or even ventured outside their city. Fran was scavenging for nails. She had bought some when the storm was publically announced, but evidently not enough. There were still windows to have wood nailed into them and she thought they still looked a little flimsy. She only had herself to look after her and knew it would be prudent to get all she could as fast as she could. She wanted to keep her eye out for anything else that might be useful too.

She had seen this place on her way back from scanning the streets. A few people were still scavenging here and there, and when she spotted it she thought she had found a well-guarded goldmine of potential. But once inside, she saw that other people were already here. She didn’t see them, but she heard them scavenging, like her. She walked in without a word and began sifting for herself. The strangers noted her presence, she knew, but they said nothing; only carried on with their own scavenging. There were two of them, her brain told her as she peered along the shelves, and they weren’t together; just individual opportunists like herself. She didn’t get a good look at either of them, but was able to register that one was a woman just a few years older than herself (maybe in her twenties) and an older man, in his forties perhaps. They all of them scavenged in silence together. As Fran made her way further inwards, the other woman made her way towards the door. She didn’t know where the older man had gone.

The room was stuffy, although the door was open. It was hard to gage if there was another door, as there was so much junk to step over and try to look around. It was also dimly lit. There were no lanterns in the room of course and the only light offered to them was streaming through the door, and that light was fading. It was around 6 PM in the evening. It was maybe time to pack up and head out soon. She continued peering along the shelves, noting nothing of value, certainly no nails so far. Twice she lifted her head up and cleared her throat, ready to ask either of the strangers whether they had seen any nails in their foraging, and twice she bent her head back down. Light was soaked up by the heavy air like a sponge and the room was quiet, as if it had drawn in a deep breath. Breaking the deafening quiet felt like a sacrilege. As dumb as the notion was, she still elected not to speak, although she would surely think herself gutless for not doing so later. She continued to peruse in silence.

Three things happened in one second. An avalanche of junk crashed in front of the door. The metal door, facing inwards, was slammed shut by the avalanche. The room went pitch black. Fran yelped, and so did the other lady, her yelp coming from somewhere close to the cascade. The avalanche was heavy and the very foundations of the store room shivered.

After the boom and screams, a voice emerged out of the dark. ‘What the hell happened?’

It was the man.

‘Are you OK?’ Fran asked, noting that the woman was near the scene.

‘I’m good,’ she replied. ‘Thought I was gonna faint. So loud!’

‘I can’t see a thing, girls,’ said the man. ‘I’ve got bad eyes. How about you?’

They both assured him they couldn’t see.

‘The junk fell in front of the door,’ said the woman. ‘You two wanna come over and help me move it? There’s tonnes of it.’

Fran and the man made their way towards the sound of the woman’s voice. It was a slow process. Fran had to step over and pull herself through wires and bags and all sorts of unknowable somethings. The place was a labyrinth of secret passages. When she arrived both the woman and the man were busy trying to move stuff. She tried moving a mat out which was crammed in under a bunch of poles. After seeing how tightly it was lodged in, she attempted to extract one of the poles. She was unable to pull any of them out, and realized after a while that they had hooks in them, and they kept getting caught on other things. She managed to prize a coat out of there after considerable effort, but it made no difference to the overall pile.

After ten or so minutes of redundant work, the man tried to take control of the situation, telling them where to stand and how to pull, and when they weren’t able to follow his commands to his satisfaction, he was hard pressed to keep the patience out of his voice.

‘No, it hooks around underneath that log thing, get it?’ he said.

‘No, I don’t get what you mean,’ said the woman. ‘What log thing do you mean? How can it be around and underneath? Or hooked in? How do you know it’s even hooked?’

‘I’ll show you,’ he said, jumping down from an unstable pile of somethings. The heavy landing suggested that the man certainly had a belly on him. ‘He moved beside the woman, maybe even pushed her aside, and said, ‘See?’

The woman let out a gasp. Evidently he had grabbed her hands to show her exactly what needed to be done. ‘Hold, twist over and then pull once I say.’

‘Ok, ok! Don’t grab me, I get it.’

The man moved past Fran. Before he jumped back up to his original position, he seemed to know where she was facing. His voice leapt out at her. ‘You remember what you’re doing?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good.’ He scrambled back up. ‘One, two, Ok, start pulling.’

Fran grabbed the cardboard box from the bottom of the pile, which weighed the earth and began pulling by tugging its corners. She was unable to get a good grip. It was wet and covered with string and there was a tangle of decorations jutting out from an infinity of angles. Nevertheless, she pulled, although she know that she was making no difference.

The man gave the woman her cue to start twisting around underneath – an instruction Fran still didn’t understand – and had the impression that the woman had no idea how this was supposed to work either. The man was doing his own unknown work, having not divulged the full plan with them, and resumed his heaving and grunting. After a couple of minutes of this heavy, confusing work, they each stopped, breathing hard.

‘How did this happen?’ the man asked. It was more an accusation than a question and was clearly directed at the woman, who had been near the scene of the crash.

‘I don’t know,’ the woman said in a voice that could be interpreted as either hysteria or guilt. ‘I didn’t touch it. It just fell.’

‘Well it was fine before then,’ said the man.

‘It can’t be helped now,’ said Fran. ‘Let’s try moving it again.’

‘I didn’t knock it over!’ said the woman. ‘It fell down by itself. Maybe you knocked it down.’

‘I wasn’t anywhere near it,’ said the man. ‘You were.’

‘We don’t know that, do we?’ the woman said, inviting Fran to take her side. ‘Even if not, maybe you, like, dislodged, it when you walked past.’

‘Is that a fat joke?’ he asked.

‘I don’t even know what you look like. If you are fat, then yeah it’s a fat joke. Don’t dislodge any more, yeah?’

Fran thought the man had probably blushed.

‘I don’t have time for this!’ he snapped. ‘I need to get out of here, I don’t have time to listen to fat jokes. You’re a hysterical woman, clearly.’

Hysterical?’ she said hysterically. ‘You’re the one jumping down people’s throats at hour one.’ She cackled. ‘I think you’ve become the hysterical man. Embarrassing.’

‘There’s a storm coming,’ he said. ‘I don’t have time to argue with little girls.’

‘You’re the one who – ‘

‘Alright, alright,’ he said loudly. ‘Let’s just figure it out, OK?’

Fran piped up. ‘Does anyone know you two are here?’

The woman said, ‘My mum knows I’m out scavenging; she doesn’t know I’m in here specifically.’

The man simply said, ‘no.’

‘Me neither,’ said Fran.

‘Someone’s gonna try and get in here again,’ said the woman. All three of us were here to scavenge, you can bet others will come.’

‘I don’t know,’ said Fran. ‘It’s late. I think people won’t start scavenging again until tomorrow at least. Plus, how are they even going to get in?’

‘Uhh, they’ll open the door?’ said the woman as if Fran were thick.

‘The door opens inwards not outwards,’ said the man. ‘There’s a pile of junk in front of the door preventing it from opening. That’s why we’re in here talking about this in the first place. Comprehend?’

‘Have to get your pot-shots in don’t you?’ the woman asked the dark. ‘Do what helps you cope.’

The dark didn’t respond.

Fran said, ‘People will come tomorrow, just like we did. We can call out to them.’

‘You saying we got to spend the night here?’ asked the woman.

‘Yeah,’ said Fran. ‘That’s clearly going to have to happen.’

The two others sighed. Both of them obviously had an inkling this might happen, but to hear it voiced aloud made it all the more real.

‘We have to try something else before we resign to that,’ said the man.

‘I’m gonna search the whole of this place for another door,’ said the woman.

‘Sure,’ said the man. He left a drawn out pause before continuing, allowing the woman’s admittedly redundant idea to fester in their minds. ‘I’m going to go on top of that big pile and start throwing things off of it. It’s got to whittle down eventually.’ He said the statement with confidence, utterly convinced of its success.

‘You look for a door with me,’ said the woman.

‘No, my plan is better,’ said the man.

‘I wasn’t talking to you,’ said the woman.

‘Oh,’ said Fran. ‘OK, I can search one side of this place, you can search the other end.’

‘No,’ said the woman, ‘I think you better stick with me.’

‘Why?’ said the man. ‘You think she’s gonna get lost? This place is only - what - 100 feet long?’

‘I’m not worried about her getting lost,’ said the woman.

‘Worried I might be a maniac?’ said the man.

Silence.

‘For God’s sake,’ he said. ‘Go find another bloody door.’ He scrambled up the collapsed junk pile and began rummaging through the top of it.

Fran made her way over to the woman. It took her a few minutes. There were things to climb and duck under. Together they began feeling the walls, gradually moving away from where the man was. He was throwing bits and pieces of stuff off from the top of the immoveable pile. They were feeling for a door or window but it was more complicated than they imagined it to be. The shelves were all placed in front of all of the walls, not nailed to them, so there could potentially be a door or window on any part of the surrounding walls. It meant that they would have to search behind the shelving units. But the shelving units themselves had layers of useless paraphernalia, and behind a lot of these shelving units was more useless paraphernalia, either because it had fallen off the shelves and ended up in the crevice between shelf and wall, or someone had stuffed it back there. Fran found herself getting very annoyed with the apathetic people who had obviously done this – it was making their lives that much harder. Yet she knew her anger towards them was technically unfounded – these people had no way of knowing that one day it would serve to annoy, frustrate, doom? three trapped souls. And she knew in her heart that there was no exit anywhere else in here anyway. There was just one door and no windows. None of them could say for sure whether that was true, but the three of them all suspected as such. Still, they had to be certain. They didn’t want to leave any surface unexplored. If she and the woman decided to abandon searching a certain area because it was too difficult to remove the crap, then the insufficiently explored area would play on their minds later. No matter how hard they looked elsewhere, there would always be that nagging suspicion that there was a hidden door or window in the exact place they had failed to properly look into. And they would never be able to find the area again. The place was too dark and crowded to find anywhere specific. Only once an area had been fully explored did they feel comfortable with moving on. They must not allow themselves to pass by any opportunity, as crushingly tedious it was.

They had been exploring the walls with their hands for a long time, and the feeling of hopelessness grew with every inch their fingers travelled. They felt along the yawning walls, never discovering any change in its pattern. Fran’s heart was beginning to beat very hard. Nothing had happened to make it thrum as it was, but that was the point. This experience was already beginning to feel eternal. It was hard to ignore the silence, it was hard to ignore the dark. It felt like a lost realm, where everything unwanted was cast, never to be seen or heard from again, never to be missed. It was a place outside of reality, some dead place three living souls had accidentally wandered into. Soon to be dead themselves, she thought wildly. She swallowed the thought; there was no sense thinking in such a way. The thought bubbled and boiled in the pit of her stomach. No sense in thinking in such a way yet, the thought echoed. But in time, it would be sensible to think in such a way. In time. She swallowed again and re-focused on the task at hand.

‘What’s your name?’ the woman asked. Her voice came out in a crackle.

Fran was relieved to hear her voice. It was hard to break the silence in this place once silence had settled. It felt like the room itself disliked noise. She relished in breaking the taboo. ‘Fran, you?’

‘I’m Kathleen… you really think we’re gonna be here all night?’

‘Unless we find a door.’

‘We both know that ain’t gonna happen,’ said Kathleen. ‘Gotta try though.’

‘Maybe we should help that guy take things off the pile.’

Kathleen snorted. ‘He’d only tells us we were in the way and doing things wrong. Don’t you know that he’s a man, and we are but women?’

Fran thought maybe Kathleen was right, but that the sensibilities of both of them shouldn’t matter in a crisis like this. Was ‘crisis’ the right word for what they were going through? The word seemed extreme; to speak it aloud would be like swearing loudly in a library. ‘You’re probably right.’

‘He wants to sort it out himself. He wants to be the hero, and for me and you to be the hysterical women counting on his brain and strength to save the day.’

‘You think so?’ said Fran.

‘Yeah, it’s not for our benefit, it’s just his ego. I know a lot about men, Fran. He’s as typical as they come. He’s probably glad to be in this situation; it’s a story he can boast about to his friends and strangers and anyone else who’ll listen. The story would be much less impressive and interesting if he and two girls saved the day wouldn’t it?’

Fran thought this was a lot of assumptions to be making about a near perfect stranger, but to refute them would be pointless; it’s not as if she was pursuing a friendship with the girl, she was just stuck with her. ‘Yeah, guys like to act like kings.’

‘Exactly. He’s a pervert too. Don’t get too chummy with him.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘Saw him checking you out before,’ said Kathleen simply. ‘Before the collapse. He was checking me out too, but I think he likes them younger.’

Fran felt a chill creep up her back.

‘He’s happy to be here I think. Trapped in a dark locked room with two young girls who wouldn’t be able to fight him off. Yeah, I think being here suits him just fine. He’s old and fat and probably doesn’t get any off his wife, so he’s angry at the world and now he’s gonna take it out on us. Our nightmare is his dream.’

Fran realized in that moment that Kathleen was crazy. Even if everything she was saying was an undisputable fact, the way she said it all, so feverishly certain, worried Fran more than the strange man on the other side of the room. Maybe Kathleen hadn’t been crazy before that door shut, but she sure was now. Maybe she had been a little bit crazy, and being trapped in the dark had pushed her over the edge. There were many maybes to consider, and no one theory reigned supreme except the simple one: Kathleen was nuts. Was she dangerous? Fran couldn’t say that just yet, but this was bad company to be locked in a choking, black labyrinth with for the night.

‘We should stick together,’ Kathleen said, now stopping her movements and looking straight at Fran. ‘That’s what survival is about – sticking together. Deal?’

Fran’s mouth was dry. She moistened her lips. ‘Yeah,’ she found herself saying. ‘We’ll stick together.’

They continued searching all across the walls. Fran found they were less focused when hour three(?) cropped up. The constantly raised hopes and dashed disappointments were destroying their resolve to comb every inch. Some places were impossible to investigate properly. The junk consistently cut off their exploration. Some of the stuff was simply immoveable or impossible to pilot. Kathleen would chatter briefly at times, only really doing it to talk over the deathly quiet. The dialogue was nonsense for the most part, sprinkled with short scatters of mad ravings. Fran didn’t respond much, choosing only to acknowledge, affirm or shrug; investigating walls and listening to ramblings was tiring. And the dark seemed to stare at her when she uttered anything, and she felt like shrinking into herself. Kathleen must have felt the same way too because her outbursts were becoming quieter and less frequent. The silence was sickening though, and Fran kept looking over her shoulder. They eventually made their way around the room and ended up back where they started. They found nothing of course, but Fran had a crawling sensation that they missed something back there, hidden behind stubborn scrap. The more reasonable part of her mind told her that there was only one door to this room, and it was the one all three of them walked through. The unreasonable part of her mind growled and oozed poison.

‘I take it you girls found nothing,’ said the man from atop the pile.

‘We found nothing at all. No windows or doors. Bet that makes you happy,’ said Kathleen.

‘And why would that make me happy?’ said the man.

‘You would rather see us try and fail than have us succeed and escape with our lives,’ said Kathleen.

The man laughed. ‘That’s right, I would much rather be stuck in this pitch black room berated by a crazy bitch.’

‘At least this crazy bitch did something useful,’ said Kathleen. ‘Have you dislodged any of it?’

The man grunted. ‘It’s impossible. You wouldn’t understand.’

‘If you’re too weak, we could help lift it,’ said Kathleen. ‘Just ask us for help, if you can bear to do that.’

‘It’s not a matter of brute strength,’ he said. ‘Everything’s tangled and jumbled up. It’s heavy, yes, but it’s difficult figuring out what’s connected where. If we had some light…’

‘Well if we had light we wouldn’t still be here would we?’ said Kathleen. ‘We would have figured this out by now.’

‘I’m going to take a rest, in any case,’ said the man. ‘I’m tired of moving stuff, and I’m tired of the unhelpful advice.’

‘Go on then,’ said Kathleen.

The man climbed down and stumbled elsewhere in the room to find a place to rest. He made no comment.

‘I’m going to rest too,’ said Fran after he had settled.

‘Alright,’ said Kathleen. ‘Where you gonna sit?’

‘Over here,’ said Fran. She sat on a pile of mats, brushing off thick dust.

‘Alright,’ said Kathleen, although she couldn’t actually see where Fran had gestured. She moved back and her voice was a little more distant. ‘I’ll be over here,’ she whispered, intending Fran to hear, but not the man. ‘You need me, holler, Ok?’

‘Sure,’ said Fran, certain that there would be no hollering.

Fran wondered whether the light of the next day would leak into the room at all. She suspected not – she remembered the fat metal door that it was, and how secure it seemed when she walked through. There would be scavengers here tomorrow. Probably. She pondered on the thought. It was likely, seeing as how the three of them had all come here today. But then again, the room had been open at that time, free for all passing scavengers to notice and investigate. Now they were all together in a nondescript room among the thousands of others in the city. Why should this one hold any special interest? Maybe there were people who were here before who might return tomorrow? That had a certain logic to it. But what if they simply tried pushing the door, found that it didn’t yield at all, and promptly gave up? The door was likely wedged so tightly shut that pushing it in from the outside would make no noise or disturb the pile at all. That made her heart sink, and then it plummeted down further still when she acknowledged that even if outsiders knew they were all trapped in there, could they offer any real help? What would they actually be able to do to help? It would take power tools to get them out, and the incoming storm saw that all of those had been made off with already. They might not even be rescued until after the storm – would anyone bother helping them beforehand? It would mean putting their own lives at risk. When exactly was the storm coming? A few days? What had seemed like the biggest, most pressing matter in the world now felt like nothing. Who cared about rain and wind when she was now trapped inside a big black box with no escape? No escape. Her eyes were open and she closed them. The view was the same. She couldn’t even escape the view. She couldn’t escape into her own mind and, if anything, it was trapping her inside. It felt like her own brain had grown teeth and was intent on self-cannibalisation. It was gnawing for now, tasting, but she could feel its teeth growing larger and sharper, its gnawing growing more enthused with every nibble. She shivered and forced herself to think of other things and finally, uneasily, she slept.

Fran opened her eyes and experienced a strange moment where she thought she was blind. She threw herself up as if she had been electrocuted and threw her arms out. They flailed and whacked into unknown objects. Her heart was screaming but settled into worried mutters as her memory returned. She remembered where she was, but that only incurred a wash of hopelessness. She didn’t want to remember where she was. It was better to be asleep, where she could escape the void. She awkwardly lifted herself off the mats and fell into a tangle of springs and coat hangers. She struggled her way out of them and pulled herself up a wooden box to get stability. She stretched her arms out and felt nothing. She went backwards and lightly tip-toed her way across a pile of boards and planks. She stumbled and tripped. Her knee banged into something metal. She drew in a sharp breath and blindly fell through the next series of unknowable somethings. She carried on like this for a long time before realizing that she really had no destination, no home base. There was nowhere to go, nothing to be done. Everywhere was nowhere. She was lost in a room that was barely bigger than a school gym. The idea was almost funny, but it was pitch black and she was trapped here, so it wasn’t funny at all. She had only been awake ten or so minutes and she was as disoriented as if she had been riding a roundabout. There was a fear deep inside her that had been awakened. Something primal and aggressive. There was no immediate danger, but the fear was there, as surely as if she was being hunted – a confusing fight or flight response that she didn’t know how to direct. Instead she covered her hands over her face and cried. The darkness gobbled up her sobs greedily.

The tears acted as an outlet for her fears, and she soon felt better. When her eyes stopped running, she sat and thought. She didn’t know how long she had been out and whether the others were asleep. She listened carefully, and she could very faintly hear someone moving things somewhere in front of her. She would go towards the source of the noise. It was something to focus on, something to do. Maybe she would even help rid the junk from outside the door. It seemed the only legitimate option. The other option was just hoping someone would discover and rescue them. It could happen, but it was time to get to work. Feeling relatively better about her upcoming project with her new attitude, she advanced towards her roommate.

It was the man. He was on top of the pile, and as she got closer, she heard him shifting and muttering. She knew he was frustrated by his lack of progress and she was hesitant before speaking up.

‘Uhh…’ she started.

‘Who’s that?’ he yelled, probably louder than intended.

‘It’s me, Fran.’ It was her first proper introduction to him.

‘Oh… you’re alone?’

‘Yeah,’ said Fran, ignoring the creeping cold.

‘Good,’ said the man. ‘I don’t need that woman stirring things up again. Come up and help me with this, would you?’

Fran didn’t respond.

‘Come on,’ he urged. ‘I don’t want to waste time convincing you not to be afraid of me. This is a very serious situation, we can’t all lose our minds. Get up here and help.’

Fran climbed. She joined him at the top of the pile, which was still near the ceiling. It felt higher, if anything.

‘Ok, so we’re just going to have to get messy with this,’ said the man. ‘There’s no order to any of it, none of my planning and bright ideas have worked, let’s just pull things off and throw them away, as best we can.’

They set to work, and as they chatted, Fran grew more and more secure in the knowledge that although brusque, the man wasn’t crazy. His name was Kevin, married, had kids - boring. She felt increasingly relaxed around him. The more secure she felt of his sanity, the more she doubted Kathleen’s rationale. She suspected maybe she was just a crazed misandrist and kept working. The noise that came with moving stuff and the focus on the project took her mind off the situation. Talking aloud helped too. It felt like the place was losing its hold on her, like she was shaking off an infestation of creepy crawlies. Over time she came to understand first hand how troublesome this knocked over junk pile was. It was heavy, twisted, puzzling and stubborn. Everything felt connected to each other. You couldn’t move one thing without first moving another, which was twisted around that which was buried beneath this. Panic began to set in again, but she swallowed hard and tried to focus harder. She had to conquer seeing with her hands.

She underestimated the dark’s claustrophobic curtain. The conversation with Kevin, while sane and cordial for the most part, was beginning to die out. She thought she was beating the darks constant wide-eyed staring, had been able to talk over its screaming silence, but it was an inexorable force that eventually drowned her out. She felt the creepy crawlies creeping, and the two of them continued their work in silence. Long hours ticked by. There was a growing concern in the back of her mind – Kathleen. Was she really still sleeping? Had she even gone to sleep? She remembered the promise she had made to her – to stick together. That apparently was the best hope of survival. But they were all together – nobody could get lost here. They were all already stuck together. She looked around, but she had the nightmarish idea that something could be staring right back at her, inches from her face, so she turned back to the pile. She thought instead about how Kathleen might react to her conversing with Kevin. She would probably consider it fraternising with the enemy. She might turn against them both. Not wanting to make a bad situation worse, she told Kevin that she was going to find Kathleen.

‘Find her? Let her sleep, she’s only going to make things worse. She’s a burden, Fran.’

‘But she wanted us to stick together,’ said Fran.

Kevin’s laugh was a bark. ‘She ain’t going nowhere. I think you should stay with me.’ It sounded like an order.

‘But she will want to know what’s going on.’ Fran started making her way down the pile.

‘W-wait!’ said Kevin. He reached out for her, grabbed her hair and pulled.

‘Ow!’

‘I’m sorry!’ he said. ‘It was an accident.’

Fran scrambled away from him.

‘Just - find her and come back,’ he said. ‘I need all the help I can get with this.’

‘I will,’ said Fran, scalp stinging.

‘Don’t leave me here too long.’

Fran knew Kevin wasn’t really attacking her, but she was scared of the desperation in his voice. He sounded different than from before. The dark was obviously seeping into his head too. It felt like the room was full of toxic gas, and they were all inhaling its insidious poison. She didn’t like to think of how much Kathleen had breathed in. The world she knew outside was a fresh cool place she was already forgetting. Now she was a cockroach, scuttling underground in its forgotten crypt. She thought of mum, and had no idea how she would be feeling now. Had she been in here long enough for her mum to be worried yet? Was she asleep in bed or had she just woken up? There was no time in here. The room existed on the outside of reality, unbound by natural law.

Fran started to softly out Kathleen’s name, but got no answer. She hopped and tripped her way through the room, and although it felt wrong to do it, she started calling out louder. Ignoring her dread, she yelled as loud as she could. Kevin started doing it too, from the other side of the room. Together they yelled and screamed and hollered. ‘Kathleen! Katttthhhleeeennn!’ They yelled for minutes on end. Fran, eyes streaming, finally gave up and sat with her head in her hands. Kevin kept yelling. He was no longer yelling Kathleen’s name, but expelling noise. He was beating and scratching at the walls. He roared and kicked and shouted and swore. His voice cracked during a particularly heavy, guttural roar, and then all he could do was screech, and there Fran sat, her hands over her head, rocking back and forth and shaking, hoping, praying that he carried on screeching, unable to again face the soundless, boundless dark.

*

Fran was running her hands over everything she could. The world was silent again. She was feeling for Kathleen’s body. She hoped she wasn’t dead, but knew that she was. It was the same way she knew earlier that there was only one door in this room – because the world was callous. The man told her to stop looking, that the girl would eventually come back – that she was maybe in a deep sleep. Maybe she had gone into shock, and it didn’t matter what state she was in, that finding her wouldn’t help their situation and nor would Fran be able to do anything to help her. But this was Fran’s new project. It was time to hunker down and hope someone came for them – the junk was going to remain sitting in front of the door like some fat sleeping cat. There was nothing else to be done, so she would instead resolved to find Kathleen. The alternative was looking and listening to nothing. So she scrabbled and scuttled like some Gollum-esque creature looking for its precious. It felt like she was finding new places all the time, as if the room expanded and swapped its objects from a never ending supply of unwanted items. She felt through a collection of what she deemed to be broken clocks, a box full of nails (she laughed after finding them and threw them across the room), and a collection of odorous mannequins, one of which felt so hideously real, so wretchedly reeking, that she had to withdraw her hands, afraid she might have actually found Kathleen’s body. Maybe it was best not to know the answer. She moved as far away from the collection as she could and sat. It was fine to have an ongoing project to keep oneself busy, but the morbidity of her challenge hadn’t truly sunk in until now: she was on searching for a dead body in a black maze.

‘Fran.’

It was Kevin. Maybe fifteen feet away. He wasn’t working on anything, just sitting.

‘What?’ said Fran.

‘Come back. She’s gone. It’s just the two of us now.’

The back of Fran’s neck prickled. ‘Where did she go, Kevin?’

‘I don’t know, Fran.’

‘What did you do to her?’

His voice quavered. ‘I didn’t do anything! I don’t know where she went! It wasn’t me! I swear!’

‘You didn’t like her, did you?’

‘She’s horrible,’ he said. His voice was ice. ‘And this place is horrible. It’s good she’s gone though.’

‘How can you say such a thing?’ said Fran. ‘Just because you two argued a bit?’

‘It’s more than that,’ he said.

Fran experienced a dawning horror that, although there was no other noise, Kevin’s voice was closer than before. To not be making any other noise underneath his feet, like the shuffle of papers or clumsy footsteps, meant that he was creeping towards her, deliberately making as little noise as possible. She pictured him on his hands and feet, stalking her like a hungry spider. She silently turned in the other direction.

‘She wouldn’t let it go,’ he said, his voice edging closer from out of the dark. ‘She kept harassing me. She was crazy, you know that right? I didn’t kill her or strangle her or anything.’ He laughed like a hyena. ‘She just… Fran? Where are you?’

Fran realized that he wanted her to talk not to have a conversation, but to use her voice to pinpoint her location. She made her way further back and said nothing.

‘Fran, I didn’t kill her! I didn’t kill her! I don’t know where she is! Why would I kill her? Fran, please! Come back! Come here! Come back here! Fran! Fran! Please, don’t you go silent too!’

She heard him twist and turn. And then he was running, as best he could. Fran hid under a mattress as he tore through the room like an enraged bull. He kicked out at some newspapers and she heard them crash to the ground. After a few minutes of madness, he collapsed and began sobbing.

‘Wanna know something funny, Fran? Remember when we were picking things off that big pile earlier? For hours on end? Guess what? It was the wrong pile! Ha! The door’s gone, Fran. I lost it, I can’t remember where it is.’ He let the information sink in. ‘Know what else I think? I don’t think anyone’s ever gonna find us! Never! Nobody’s going to be able to get in here ever again. We’re all going to die in here, we’re all going to rot together!’

Fran put her fingers in her ears.

He sniffled. ‘Why not spend the last of our time together, Fran?’ he asked. ‘If an airplane is going to go crashing into the earth, what do you do? You turn to the person next to you and you both just go crazy on each other. Come on Fran, let’s just fuck. Let’s just be animals together and forget these worries for a while.’

Silence.

I hate you!’ he shrieked. ‘You would rather face death alone than face it with me! You’re just like her! You disgusting, trampy - gyyaaaahhhhhh! Helllllllllllll-’

Fran’s mind was buzzing, her heart was thrashing. Kevin was squealing and screeching again. He was struggling and twisting and he fell to the floor hard, and had she not known that he was now crazy, Fran would have thought he was having a seizure. After long minutes of struggle, he became silent. The room returned to its tomb-like state. Fran listened very hard, and hated doing it. It was scary listening to silence. She was listening for punctures, but dreaded the idea of hearing one. It felt like she was strapped to an electric chair, told that she would receive a zap, but not when she would get zapped. She was still.

*

Fran had been hiding for ages and needed to stretch her legs. There was no movement, no sound. She hoped in her heart that Kevin was dead, although he had been just a regular family man before entering the room. She was now certain that he had killed Kathleen. Kathleen might have been crazy before Kevin, but he turned crazier. She thought maybe Kathleen had been silent the whole time so as to disallow Kevin from finding her location, and although that seemed hopeful, this was a place of hopelessness, and she knew that Kathleen was dead and that Kevin might still be alive. He had vented out his fury, perhaps he had hurt himself, but now he had resolved himself to patience. He was waiting for her to make a mistake and let slip her location. It was best - safest - to assume this was the case. She crept.

A long time passed. Perhaps. The more she moved around, the more she became convinced that Kevin had simply disappeared like Kathleen. She couldn’t hear him, and she was listening all the time. He didn’t jump out at her, although her movements were growing steadily bolder and noisier. She thought about the thirsty room and how it drank noise, never allowing sound to spread too far. She thought of her own thirst and licked her cracked lips. Her throat felt rough, sandy. If Kevin didn’t kill her, she would die a hard death regardless. It felt as if her throat was full of barbed wire. She spluttered. She took a deep breath and the room’s stale stench made her choke, which further incensed the barbs. She thought of her mum, who would by now be wringing her hands, taking down the boards on a window to stare out of it, wondering when Fran would be coming home. She would be looking out that window forever. The true storm would not be made of wind and rain but rage and sorrow. Fran sat still and soon she was but a statue. Fear had put its cold arm around her shoulders, whispering bitter nothings.

Something new was happening, something that had not happened for a long time. She could see something. It was shapeless and made of dull changing colours. She knew it was a hallucination. She watched as it writhed and twisted in the air, then something to the side of her appeared and darted out of view. She snapped her head around and of course saw nothing. Then there was something lumbering in the distance. It was human in shape, and she grew tense, worried it could be real. It looked at her. She looked at it. Then it flew at her with such dashing speed that she yelped and fell backwards. She crashed to the floor and then she could feel it breathing on top of her. ‘No, Kevin!’ she howled. ‘No, no, no! Stop!’ She struggled and squirmed. Her eyes were clamped shut and during her struggles she realized that there was nothing there, nobody. She stood up quickly and snapped her head this way and that, now seeing all kinds of nothings and somethings creeping out of the shadows. She put her hands to the sides of her head and shook.

‘Stop it!’ Her mind’s mutated teeth were no longer nibbling but snapping and tearing. ‘Please God, help! Somebody help me! Kevin! Kevin help!’ Her broken mind uttered titters and taunts and insidious, inaudible whispers. Things crashed and clashed. Fran broke open the barbed wires in her throat and pierced the air with a scream that broke her mind’s toothy grip. All the noises and images disappeared. Now it was just her and the silent dark again. Her mind’s jaws were open, its grip relinquished, but twitchy and eager to bite down.

Fran was breathing very heavily now and when she came across Kevin’s body she didn’t register it at first. Once she realized she had kicked into him she squealed and tried scrambling up the wall, but when she noted he wasn’t going to get up, she tentatively investigated. She felt his big belly and face. He had big ears, a big nose, glasses balding… and his throat had been cut. Alarms and lights thundered and blazed in her head. In that moment of realization she was no longer human. Her mind snapped its jaws down so hard she could literally feel its pointed teeth. It ripped and tore and all she could do was lift herself up slowly and back away. She was silent, but inside insanity ruled like a crazed demon.

She turned around and someone was standing in front of her. Even though her mind was raving she knew it was no hallucination. She could feel the electricity in the air from their presence. She couldn’t see anyone, but she knew that if she reached forward, she could touch them.

‘Kathleen…’ Fran croaked. ‘What… I thought you were dead.’

She heard a whip of unsheathed metal. A voice, utterly unfamiliar to her said, ‘she is.’

There was much noise and commotion in the minutes that followed, and then, as it always did, the room returned to silence once more.

 

END


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